Work From Home: The Covid pandemic will permanently change the world in many ways. Most obviously, individuals are increasingly going to work from home. Workplaces will not disappear, but at home, an increasing proportion of work will be done.
This will save office space and ancillary facilities for employers. It will save money, time, and hassle for employees to commute to work. It will cut the need for meetings of all kinds. More individuals will be available from home for part-time work or piecework, boosting productivity.
In India, the dramatic crash in the female labor force participation rate can finally reverse by work from home (FLPR). Two-thirds of women over the age of 15 work in rich countries, boosting incomes and living standards. A rising FLPR allowed GDP growth to exceed 7 percent in every Asian miracle economy.
The only exception is India, where, according to government data, the FLPR fell from 33 percent. In the early 1990s to just 25 percent. And to as little as 11-12 percent, according to surveys by the Centre for Indian Economy Monitoring. The figure on the CMIE looks too bad to be true. Perhaps Covid has made leaving home to work even more dangerous for women.
The FLPR crash means that the overall rate of labor participation in India, for men and women, has been dropping. This is the very opposite of the rise that was supposed to give India a demographic dividend. A decade ago, the total participation rate was about 50 percent but fell to 43 percent in 2019-2020. This dropped further with Covid and revived slightly to a still pathetic 41 percent. Male engagement has been more or less constant, but female engagement has collapsed, reducing the national average.
And why so? One encouraging reason is that a greater proportion of girls are now in school and college. Rather than in the fields in the 15-25 age group. The same is true for boys between the ages of 15-25. This is good in the long run, although it is necessary to improve the quality of education.
But women’s participation has also dropped from 25 to 65 in every other age group, particularly in agriculture. At around 16 percent, the FLPR has always been among the lowest in the world in urban areas. Despite increasing female education, it has shrunk a little. The college-going girls’ boom has not translated into a female boom in urban jobs.
This has an explanation by deep social motives. A global map showing female participation will show that in a mostly Muslim belt stretching from Morocco. Across North Africa and the Middle East to North India, the lowest rates by far lie. North Indian Hindu culture is also affected by Islamic culture. Which discourages female education, employment and outside work.
In North India, if they roam outside their homes, particularly at late hours, women are considered fair prey to men. For fear of ‘badnami’, a slur on their reputation, they are not meant to complain of molestation. Women (particularly Dalits) in rural India transplant rice and harvest crops in groups and feel reasonably safe. But such work has been slashed by farm mechanisation.
Obsolete legislation had previously made it difficult for IT companies. To obtain the necessary telecom clearances to create effective network work from home. Luckily, because of Covid, those rules were kept under suspension and should be permanently abolished. Women now outnumber men in colleges, and urban hiring requires reflection on this.
Subsidizing companies that hire women to work from home should be considered by the government. This increases the demographic dividend and helps society as a whole. We have to change the dreadful culture that keeps women out of the workforce at home.